This morning in the kitchen at work I was talking politics with the CEO, and Shakespeare came up. Why? Because he acknowledged the Shakespeare stickers on the front of my laptop. He said something about Shakespeare hundreds of years ago already having said some wise things about all politicians. I said that just recently I’d forwarded around an article comparing Joe Biden’s advice to Hillary Clinton, and Shakespeare’s.
Then it got interesting. He told me that one of his (four) daughters is in college, and she’s studying Shakespeare, and that *he* (her father, my CEO) was assigned homework. They’re studying Hamlet’s girlfriend’s father’s speech – what’s his name?
Right, Polonius. He has that whole soliloquoy about neither a borrower not a lender be or however it goes, and we’re supposed to write back with what advice we sent out kids off to college with. And here I am thinking, “What else can I say? This guy said it pretty good!”
That was about the end of that conversation, but it got me thinking. Later in the day, when he was back at his desk but his door was open, I knocked, and here’s what I said:
In case I haven’t made it obvious, I always thought it kind of goes without saying, but if you, or really anybody here, if your kids ever have Shakespeare homework or ever need any kind of help with the subject, you absolutely come and you get me. The idea that there might be kids that don’t get it, while I’m around and could help them? That bothers me. I can’t have that. When it comes to homework I might not always have the answer that they need, because usually the teacher isn’t asking questions about your gut feeling or your personal interpretation of the play, they want the academic answer that comes straight out of the textbook, and I don’t always have that. But in that case what I do have is thousands of followers on social media, many of whom are PhDs and academics who do this stuff full time and know a lot more than I do, and I can ask them and then I can play middle man and I can translate. Then we all learn something.
Funny how life’s changed in the decade I’ve been doing this. I used to cringe to open my mouth about Shakespeare because I always just assumed that whoever was interested enough in talking to me about the subject would by default also know more about the subject than me, and I was always worried about saying the wrong thing. Somewhere along the line I embraced that. I don’t have all the answers, and I never will. When I don’t, I ask, and then I learn, and maybe I’ll have the answer next time somebody asks me. Because chances are very good that the people asking me questions don’t ever get a chance to ask questions of the Shakespearean professionals that I have access to at this point.
What I do have is a deep seated belief that Shakespeare can be experienced and understood by everybody, and that doing so makes life better, and that when I’m able to help that mission in any way I can, it makes me very happy indeed.